Honoring 9/11 By Reviewing Our Priorities
In honor of the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America, I invite you to take a big-picture view of how this event impacted your personal lives, your relationships, and your values. This process has the potential to reveal some important truths, if you allow it to do so. Consider this comparison: Prior to 9/11, a USA Today poll on the values of the American public resulted in this list, in prioritized order:
As you can see, Career and Wealth are in the top half of the list, while Home, Family, and God are on the bottom. I am assuming that “Heart” means love relationships; notice that it comes in second to Career. After the attacks, USA Today ran the same poll to see if there was any difference. Here are the “after disaster” results:
Career and Wealth fell to the bottom, while Family, Heart, and God moved to the very top. It is my experience after doing years of values clarification work with clients that the second list more accurately reflects our true values. However, these choices indicate a much more difficult path to sustain, in part because we haven’t been taught how.
Our education system focuses on the “three R’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic; teaching the ins and outs of seeking careers in the hopes of creating wealth. Whenever there is stress on the budget, we lose sight of the other important R’s: aRt, (which fosters creativity, problem solving, and self-expression) and Relationships (which are at the heaRt of everything that matters to us).
Not only have we not been taught how to achieve healthy relationships and a happy family, but we don’t get rewarded in society for having them. Because these rewards are internal, they somehow don’t carry the same weight in our minds. We often dismiss the immense wealth of a healthy relationship as true wealth.
The problem is that no matter how much we truly want our values system to reflect the second list, if we don’t know how to embody and achieve those values, we will slowly and eventually return to what we do know how to do. The first list regained its preeminence just a few short years after 9/11. And then the subsequent financial crisis shook up our values all over again. It appears the universe is trying to teach us a lesson.
We must take it upon ourselves to learn to love, and we must take it upon ourselves to pay attention to our own values.
For the anniversary of Sept. 11 this year, I invite you to record each of your values on Post-it notes (one to each). You might consider spirituality, health, service, relationships, family, children, athletics, nature, the environment, your home environment, peace, money, compassion, truth, —whatever may be true for you. Then, take some time to define your top twelve. Really consider what each one means to you and what it “looks” like. What does “family” mean to you, or “Service? (You may be surprised that your definition is not the same as that of your sweetheart, coworker, or boss.) Then, take your Post-its and put your values in prioritized order. This will serve you when two values come into conflict (such as spirituality and work, or family and career).
Now, truly look at your life through the lens of your values. Are you living in alignment with them? Do your words, thoughts, actions, and relationships reflect your values? Does your home, lifestyle, and career reflect your values?
Here is my hope for us all: What truly matters to you will leave its fingerprints on everything you touch.